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Editorial: Why complaints about Alerus Center officials are news

On Facebook on Saturday, a reader responded this way to a Herald story about the conduct of two top Alerus Center officials: "Do you really think writing an article about someone's 'erratic' behavior in the workplace is appropriate?" Fair questio...

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On Facebook on Saturday, a reader responded this way to a Herald story about the conduct of two top Alerus Center officials:

"Do you really think writing an article about someone's 'erratic' behavior in the workplace is appropriate?"

Fair question. Here's the answer:

Yes, it's appropriate. It's appropriate because the Alerus Center officials work for us-meaning the people of Grand Forks.

Grand Forks residents are the officials' bosses, in other words. The city owns the building, which means it's only right that the residents have an interest in how their employees-the managers of the building-do business.

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So as the building owners, residents have both a need and a right to know when reports surface that describe the building managers' behavior. That's especially true given the fact that Grand Forks city leaders recently put the two top Alerus Center managers on leave.

If you were on the board of an organization, and you found out that two of your organization's high-level managers had been put on leave, you 'd want to know why. In effect, that's the position Grand Forks residents are in-and providing that information was the purpose of the Herald story.
It's true that in private companies, emails and evaluations get to stay private. It's true-but it's also irrelevant, because the Alerus Center is not a private company.

Instead, the Alerus Center is a city-owned building. So, Alerus Center staffers work for the city-a status that carries both advantages and disadvantages.

For many public-sector employees, the "plus" side of the ledger includes job security and pension benefits that, in the private sector, are almost unknown. Over the decades, wages have risen in comparison with the private sector, too.

As a result, jobs with the local, state and federal government and their institutions tend to be highly sought-after. That's good news for taxpayers, because it helps make sure job openings get filled by strong applicants.
But along with the plusses, there are some minuses in government work. One of them is that employees' careers unfold in the public eye.

So, teachers see their salaries in the newspaper. College presidents get their text messages reported.

And Alerus Center executives find their management styles explored on the front page.

The next time someone asks why public officials are subject to taxpayers' scrutiny, remember that answer: Because they work for us.
It's not a perfect system to maintain accountability to taxpayers. But it's the best that anyone's come up with; and most of the time, it works well.

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-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

This editorial has been corrected from a previous version, which erroneously stated that the Alerus Center is managed by a facilities-managment company. The Alerus Center is both owned and managed by the city of Grand Forks. 

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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